The Movie Guru: ‘The Black Widow’ a surprisingly funny action romp
“Black Widow” stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, William Hurt, and more. | Disney
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a Marvel movie is to try and pretend the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t exist.
That’s definitely the case with “Black Widow,” premiering this weekend in theaters and on Disney+ premium access. On its own, it’s an entertaining, surprisingly funny action romp that felt like the perfect cross between an action movie and family comedy. When you bring in the rest of the marvel Universe, however, it mostly just highlights all of Natasha Romanoff’s wasted potential before she was killed off in “Avengers: Endgame.” “Black Widow” should have been the start of something great, not a belated apology.
The movie’s plot is set just after “Captain America: Civil War,” though what little you need to know about that movie is recapped in the first few minutes of this one. The main thing is that Natasha is on the run when she receives a mysterious package from an important figure in her past — Yelena Belova, a fellow Black Widow who was also briefly Natasha’s sister. Can Natasha and Yelena face their past and figure out how to free the other Black Widows before it’s too late?
For those looking for a real exploration of Natasha’s Canon backstory — years of training and psychological manipulation in the Red Room, working as an assassin for the Russian government — the movie does cheat somewhat. We do get a glimpse into the training of some newer girls who have gone through the Red Room, but the system is entirely different. We see their trauma, and we get glimpses of Natasha’s, but it’s far from the complete story.
Still, there’s a lot here to enjoy. This is especially true of Natasha’s “family,” who were really a group of agents who all went undercover together in America. Still, they all remember the time far more fondly than they’d like to admit, and watching Natasha interact with them all gave me more of a “team as family” feeling than any of the Avengers movies. In addition to warm, emotional moments, that also included deeply entertaining mid-battle banter and hilarious moments that don’t detract at all from the action.
Part of the reason it worked so well is the excellent supporting cast. Florence Pugh, who plays Yelena, continues to be a gift who blesses whatever movie she’s in. David Harbour shows off his broadly comic chops as Alexei, a former Russian superhero fallen on hard times, and Rachel Weisz brings more depth to her character than can be found in the script. Even better, the chemistry between the three and Scarlett Johansson is endlessly entertaining.
If this had come out before 2019, I would hail it as the sign that Black Widow was finally getting the time she deserved. Now, though, it makes me angry that Marvel could have been doing this for the character the entire time and didn’t. If you feel the same way, skip the credit’s scene (an uninteresting, depressing teaser for Marvel’s TV products) and let yourself hold onto the glow for a little longer.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.